Land, sea, air and train: Q&A with Luke Mangan

12 April, 2016 by

With 19 restaurants across five countries, and partnerships with cruise ships, an airline and now a luxury train, chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan certainly has his hands full. And that’s not to forget the fact that he also runs a series of awards and training programs aimed at educating and encouraging the next generation of Australian chefs. It’s safe to say that Mangan is well and truly invested in the foodservice industry.

Mangan’s partnership with Eastern and Oriental Express – announced in March – makes him the first restaurateur in the world to have dishes served on land (Glass), at sea (P&O Cruises), in the air (Virgin Australia) and now on rail.

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Hospitality recently caught up with Mangan to chat about his growing global brand, while also picking his brain on some issues closer to home.

YOUR INAUGURAL TRIP ON THE EASTERN AND ORIENTAL EXPRESS TAKES PLACE IN OCTOBER, HOW ARE YOU PREPARING?

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We’ve signed onto a longer term deal where we’ll have our menus, our food and our brand on the Eastern and Oriental Express train, which is very exciting and a great thing to be able to do.

The galleys on these trains are no different from what we have in the air, on Virgin Australia planes, so we’ve got a lot of experience in reproducing our food in circumstances like that. And, as I’ve always said, 99 percent of the food you get in the air is the same food you get in our restaurants. So you’re going to get just as good quality food on the trains as we have on cruise ships, on land and in the air.

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HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN ONE COHESIVE BRAND WHILE STILL ACKNOWLEDGING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PLATFORMS AND COUNTRIES YOU OPERATE IN?

It’s all about serving quality ingredients and giving the customer a great experience. In all of our 19-odd restaurants around the world, it’s not only very important for us to use the best ingredients we can, but also to remember that the restaurant is not just about the food, it’s about the whole package; from the music, to the lighting, to the wine, to the service, to the look and to the feel.

HOW DO YOU TACKLE STAFF TRAINING ACROSS THE DIFFERENT PLATFORMS?

It’s really important that each individual restaurant is independent and trains and motivates the staff within it. In all of our restaurants we have a head chef and a restaurant manager, and 99 percent of the time each of those head chefs has come up through the ranks and worked with me for 10 or 15 years, so they understand what we like in food and the direction it should go in, but then they can add a personal touch as well.

WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU FACE WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPING AND TRAINING STAFF?

Everyone finds it hard to get staff. The dropout rate of apprentices in cooking is 50 percent, which is why we started the Appetite for Excellence program. It’s to encourage young kids and show them there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Tafe Inspired Series is about that as well, we’re getting some of the best names, not only in this country but from around the world. We started the series last year with Richard Branson and we got a whole heap of Tafe students into the kitchen at Mojo on Dank St [in Waterloo, Sydney]. We got a message out there that things can go wrong in your career but you’ve got to keep trying to become the best. That’s important to us, to keep passing that message on; mistakes will happen but you have to keep trying. I see our goal as encouraging and motivating young kids in the industry, because in 20 years’ time we want more Peter Gilmores, we want more Mark Bests, we want more Ross Lusteds; we want all those chefs coming up into the ranks.

IS PART OF THE ENCOURAGEMENT SHOWING ASPIRING CHEFS THAT THEY COULD END UP WORKING AROUND THE WORLD ON ANY NUMBER OF DIFFERENT PLATFORMS?

It’s all about giving these young students the opportunity to ask chefs questions about how they got to where they are. Especially with the Tafe Inspired series, the people we get up there to talk – we’ve had Peter Gilmore, Ross Lusted, Mark Best – 90 percent of the time their stories are just like those of the young kids sitting in front of them. They started from nowhere, they had very humble beginnings, but they soldiered on and now they’ve cooked all around the world. They’re stories that show that you’ve got to be passionate and creative, and then you can do anything.

HOW DO YOU RETAIN ENOUGH STAFF TO RESOURCE THE NUMBER OF RESTAURANTS YOU RUN?

You have to empower them. Show them that there is opportunity. We have 19 restaurants around the world, so staff can go off and work in Tokyo, and Singapore, the Maldives, wherever. We show them that there is opportunity for growth and I think that’s why we’ve done well.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE KEY CHALLENGES THAT YOU SEE FOR THE INDUSTRY MOVING FORWARD?

I think we have to understand sustainability better, especially for the younger chefs. We – chefs who have been around for a bit longer – have to educate the younger generations coming through; we have to motivate them. We want chefs to be ready to take over from the current leading chefs in this country. I think the more young chefs can travel, the more young chefs can get out there and experience different things, and meet different chefs, the better it will become.

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